Sunday, October 12, 2008

McCain Salvages His Soul?

I'm a couple of days late with this, but surely, you've already heard that John McCain had to talk down a couple of his supporters at a campaign rally Friday night in Minnesota, telling them that their fear-mongering (which has been unquestionably provoked by him and Gov. Mooseburger) was misplaced, and finding himself in the awkward position of having to defend the opponent he'd been savaging at every opportunity.

I read Ana Marie Cox's account of this incident at, which described an escalation of the anger and fear that was increasingly being expressed at McCain events throughout the week, but wanted to see some video before posting something about this particular outburst. Fortunately, Talking Points Memo had clips later in the evening:

I don't know how else to say it: This is some horrifying shit. The ignorance and deep-seated prejudice expressed by the two people in that video is almost beyond comprehension. (I say "almost," because I think we all knew these feelings existed in some circles; it's still just jolting to hear it voiced.)

What does that woman (and I won't mention her name, but it's been reported) mean when she says she doesn't trust Obama because she believes he's "an Arab"? (Reportedly, she actually said "Arab terrorist," which I suppose makes her statement a bit less blatantly racist, and also might help to explain McCain's response, which might not otherwise have seemed particularly enlightened in itself.)

What exactly are those people afraid of? What do they imagine is going to happen if/when Barack Obama is elected to the presidency? What might they be capable of doing if their irrational worst fears are suddenly realized?

Four years ago, after the 2004 election, I expressed my dismay at how culturally and morally divided the country seemed to be. I think we've all come to realize that the schism wasn't as pronounced as it appeared back then, but there are still clearly some fissures between certain factions in our society, and it's getting ugly on the other side, man.

It's one thing to disagree with a politician based on policy or ideological differences. If you don't support Obama because you think he'll raise your taxes or take away your guns, that's a disagreement. But to believe he's a terrorist, as if he was some Manchurian Candidate-like sleeper agent just waiting for orders to carry out jihad, which was the accusation being leveled at McCain events throughout last week, is based on nothing but xenophobia.

Misguided indignation plus anger times ignorance is a dangerous equation.

And what we saw from McCain on Friday night, trying to bring some civilization to a festering mob (and getting booed for it by several of his supporters), appeared to be a realization that this has gone too far and a campaign that had become based on inciting fear had lost its way. At least that's what I hope. I'd love to believe that McCain went back to his bus after that rally, sat in a corner alone, and just put his head in his hands, wondering where it all went wrong.

Or maybe I've just seen too many movies. But if this article from The Times (London) is to be believed, perhaps rediscovering his civility is also causing friction within his campaign. And maybe, just maybe, he realizes that teaming up with Sarah Palin, who packages sarcasm and hatred in that perky folksiness/feigned normalcy of hers, while barely concealing her ruthless ambition for power, was a huge mistake.

McCain has long seemed like someone who had sold his soul to achieve his ultimate goal. Maybe now he's seen what that has truly cost him.